Is the Time Spent on Your Phone Really Time Well Spent?

11 Apr Is the Time Spent on Your Phone Really Time Well Spent?

At our latest count in the UK, 18-24-year-old women are now spending 88.5 hours a month looking at their smartphones. This might seem shockingly high, but stop to think that the average usage across all age groups is now 65.3 hours a month with their smartphone.

We’re in our screens, but what are we doing? In 2016, it was also found that 16-24-year olds were spending as much as two and a half hours a day using social media across all devices, with 61 percent of this usage occurring on a mobile phone. That equates to 73 hours a month overall, and around 54 hours of access for 18-24-year-old women on their mobile device. Our smartphones are hoovering up our attention, and within them social media is sucking our time away.

There is a lack of return on this time. Even for those who rely on social media for their careers or businesses, it is doubtful that many awaken on a Sunday morning with a determination to spend more time on Facebook as a source of leisure.

James Williams from Oxford University argues that digital technologies privilege our impulses over our intentions, and are gradually diminishing our ability to engage with the issues we care most about. Via The RSA.

What are we actually doing on social media?

If they do end up on social media, will they remember any of the activities that they partook in? A notification might draw us in. John Smith mentioned you in a comment. Three more are waiting for you, two are utterly pointless and irrelevant, but we can’t be bothered to spend time figuring out how to switch them off. You check the first one. Tagged in a video. Dancing squirrels. Reply: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Ah! Tom’s dog is funny. Like. Notification. John Smith likes your comment.

Fragmented, distracting, banal. That is about the best way to sum up this kind of social media usage, which seems to have become the default method of using Facebook. It’s not enough to say social media is full of ‘creators’ – as so few people do anything other than share photos.

Barely anything is memorable in this endless feed, which is not improved by the faux outrage of Twitter, the pristine parade of envy and memes that is Instagram, or the inspirational workplace fables of LinkedIn. This replicated system of notifications, likes, shares and a feed gets us there, makes us spend time there, and subtlety deletes any consideration that this might not be what we should be doing.

Tristan Harris, founder of the Time Well Spent movement and Center for Humane Tech, discusses technology as a utility that makes us more productive rather than making us spend more time with it. 

Distractions from distraction

Checking our phone seems fine in the time we might think spare, but then spreads itself over time when our attention really should be elsewhere. It attempts to make boredom – the feeling of unhappiness due to being in an uninteresting situation or somewhere with nothing to do – obsolete. But because we’re now programmed to sit entertaining ourselves on our phones on public transport, waiting in line or essentially any situation when our attention begins to itch, we tend to carry the habit into time when our attention should not be spare.

In the office meeting, the distracted state has often become the default. Not your turn to speak? Best check email. Ohhh! An Instagram notification. When it is your turn you’ve forgotten what you were going to say, because you’d just been whisked away through the snaps from your last holiday. It doesn’t matter, because everyone is doing just the same as you.

Similar behaviour can so easily bubble into time outside of work. Do you want to spend time playing with your dog? A day out with the family? Just enjoying a quiet moment alone with the trees and birdsong? We might spend so much time documenting these and sharing them, that this action replaces the meaning of the time well spent itself.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can make the decision to log off – but we will likely have to make a conscious decision to do so. First, it’s worth tracking how much time you spend with your smartphone. If you find it’s too high, then you may want to consider a digital detox, but also consider other ways that you can have a better relationship with technology.

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